2012 in Books: The Turkeys

Why, some may ask, do I feel the need to make the books I reviewed badly part of the year end/year beginning book review posts?

I dunno - perhaps it's the completist in me. I read them, even if they weren't great, and attention MUST BE PAID. Also, I am always open to dissenting opinions; I am fully aware that, although some books are just objectively bad, with others it is entirely possible that what I brought to the reading experience was equally at fault.

So. In 2012, according to Goodreads, I recorded 144 books. It's likely that I missed a few - remember when this happened, and I had to spend an hour on the Ottawa Public Library website searching through mystery titles? There are books I can't bring myself to admit to reading, and books I just forget to log, which is incredibly dumb, because relying on my memory is like - insert razor-sharp Lance Armstrong joke, I'm too tired.

Seventeen books that got one or two stars for me - "I didn't like it", or the suitably tepid "It was okay".

Little Star by John Ajvide Lindquist: I think the biggest problem with this writer for me is that I read Let the Right One In first, and nothing he's published subsequently has remotely lived up to that one for me. This one started interestingly enough, and the story of the relationship that develops between two girls who don't fit in with the normal run of humanity kept my attention for a while, but (and here the frequent comparison to Stephen King holds up, because this happens in many Stephen King books as well) ultimately it devolves into an unintelligent gore-fest, which is really disappointing when set against the deliciously creepy subtlety of Let the Right One In.

After the Apocalypse by Maureen F. McHugh: With this one I really have to wonder if it was just my mood. The other reviews are almost uniformly positive and I generally love this genre. This just left me flat, though.

City of Whispers by Marcia Mullar: This is part of an extremely long-running series; the first one was published in 1977. It takes place in San Francisco, and the role of the city in the series is considerable - journal articles have been written about 'Sharon McCone's San Francisco'. I've long admired the series, particularly for the fact that the author lets her protagonist evolve and grow, unlike some series writers. But the last two or three books have been lacking; I find myself suspecting that Muller has grown tired of the series, or is rushing to meet deadlines. The writing seems to lack care, with short sentences and little spark. The dialogue is perfunctory. Characters act in ways that are out of...well.... character. It might be time to let this one go.

The Last Lie by Stephen White: Another series book, a series which, if I'm honest, I really only enjoyed the first two or three books in. Why do I keep going back? I don't request them from the library any more, but I still have trouble not sweeping the latest one into my bag if I see it on the shelf. Even though it's free, it's no longer a solid return on investment. But let me just take the opportunity here to complain about something that irritates me every time I read one of his books, to the point where I've considered emailing the author: he can't seem to give his female characters normal names. Apart from the narrator's wife and daughter, nearly every female in every book has a name that makes me raise an eyebrow, and would likely give Nan an aneurysm. Some of the ones I remember: Sawyer, Gibbs, Landon, Merritt, and one girl who is named Carmel at the beginning of the book and then demands to be called Cara later on. Okay, now that I'm typing it it sounds really stupid, but pet peeves don't have to be reasonable, right? I just don't understand why he names female characters like a ten-year-old cooking up possible names for her future fairy princess children.

South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami: I'd been meaning to read something by Murakami for years. How I wish I'd let it remain just a beautiful unexplored potentiality. I could say I read this for book club, which I did, but the sad truth is that it was MY suggestion. This is what I wrote on Goodreads: I feel like I should give this a rating based on how I think I SHOULD feel about it, but I just couldn't find a way into it. I put it on my book club list because I'd been meaning to read something by Murakami, but I wish I'd started with something else. The translation seemed clunky ("I never saw her again. That is, until many years later"), I've always disliked the device of the mysterious beautiful woman, infinitely desirable simply because of the mystery, and the whole thing seemed flaky and insubstantial.

Let's All Kill Constance by Ray Bradbury: Years and years ago I read Death is a Lonely Business and A Graveyard for Lunatics by Ray Bradbury. I own both books, set in the 1950s in Venice Beach in California, peopled by a young writer, a surface-cynical cop with a heart of gold, and glamorous movie stars in various stages of their careers. They seemed impossibly magical and poetic, written with such a graciousness of spirit, and from then on I read everything by Ray Bradbury that I could get my hands on. One morning in high school homeroom, the girl who sat in front of me asked what class the book of short stories I was reading was for. I said I was just reading it for pleasure, and she looked at me like I had confessed to eating kittens for breakfast. This isn't supposed to be a 'Ray Bradbury made it okay that I was weird for reading books on purpose' story, it's just a random memory, and a way to delay having to describe what a dismal piece of dreck Let's All Kill Constance was, even though it was written by the same author and set in the same world with the same characters. It was like someone else tried to write in his style and failed miserably. Either he'd waited too long and grown too tired to muster up anything but a pale, perfunctory imitation or I was wrong about those earlier books. I'm honestly a little afraid to go back and find out.

Insurgent by Veronica Roth: Divergent was really good. This was quite bad. I will, of course, have to read the third book. Perhaps it will be just right.

Hide me Among the Graves by Tim Powers: I wrote on Goodreads:  I kind of hated this book, but I'm really not sure why. It just seemed to drag on and on with the same vaguely tiresome people running away from the same evil spirits that some of them sort of felt sorry for or loved even while being really afraid of them. It sounded good. It was very tiresome.

This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers: Most of the other reviews on Goodreads were positive for this too, but I'm pretty confident in my assessment that is was crap. Whiny teen angst with zombies around the edges. Maybe teenagers would be the same puling little suckholes even in a crisis, but it seems like someone should be able to write about it in a more convincing manner.

Fablehaven by Brandon Mull: "Interesting plot, disappointingly mediocre writing" is what I wrote on Goodreads. My main plot beef was the fact that the brother keeps being forgiven for the dumbass things he does, which happens often in stories, but the thing is, the things he does aren't just goofy mistakes or problems with impulse control; they are flat-out acts of selfish and willful assholishness that keep resulting in near-disastrous consequences, and yet everyone keeps reacting like "yeah, okay, you detonated that nuke just because you wanted to see some interesting light patterns, but what the heck, we're family".

The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright: I wrote on Goodreads: I loved The Gathering, and found this intensely disappointing by comparison. Maybe I was missing something. It read like someone trying, and failing, to describe an adulterous affair as something less pedestrian or dull or self-indulgent as other people's adulterous affairs. Maybe that was the point, maybe Gina is meant to be read that way - weak and self-glamorizing - as a character. Either way, it didn't work for me.

The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks: Meh.

A Dark Matter by Peter Straub: I wrote on Goodreads: I keep trying. I love smart horror and writers I love seem to agree that Peter Straub does smart horror brilliantly. And yet, for me, he's always so close... and yet, not. (Starting to worry a little about my learning curve).

White Crow by Marcus Sedgwick: I wrote on Goodreads: Story was interesting. Execution was somewhat lacking. (And yet, I remember this vaguely as being kind of different and pretty good. Huh.)

The Stone Child by Dan Poblocki: I think this suffered from the fact that I had read some very good YA literature around this time - and, to be fair, it's pitched to an even slightly younger audience. The story is cute but the writing is not terribly deft, and I was annoyed that clues or discoveries that should have been immediately obviously pertinent would take a while to sink in. I felt like Poblocki was talking down even to the younger audience.

The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler: I wrote on Goodreads: Not bad, just overly hyped for what it was. The present-day story didn't really fit in with the in-the-past story, so it all seemed a little disjointed. The story of who really killed the family isn't resolved in a satisfactory way, it's just played for shock value and then to introduce another threat as a complication later on. None of the character's motivations seem really based in anything solid.

Zone One by Colson Whitehead: I wrote on Goodreads: I didn't like it. I don't know why, exactly. I love zombie books, and if they're thoughtful and insightful, all the better. This one just left me completely flat. I couldn't get a handle on any of the characters, often it was difficult to tell if things were happening or if Mark Spitz was just imagining them happening, and I had to force myself to finish it. Maybe it was just the wrong time or a bad mood.


StephLove said…
I've read a lot of Bradbury but not the one you review here. I think it's safe to go back and read him again. My favorites are Dandelion Wine, The Martian Chronicles, and Something Wicked This Way Comes. I read the last one to my then fifth-grader last spring. It was a reach for him---the prose can get complicated-- but he liked it.

I read Zone One this year, too. I thought I understood the reason for the main character's detachment-- it was his reaction to trauma-- but I found it alternately effective and off-putting. It could have worked in a The Road kind of way and sometimes it did but often it just left me feeling detached from the characters and story.
Nicole said…
I am bookmarking this post (bookmarking - get it?) so I can make my wish lists for birthdays and Christmas!
Insurgent was supremely disappointing after Divergent. What a waste.

I started reading IQ84 by Murakami in 2012 and then put it down, but have recently restarted it. I really want to love the shit out of it. And I sort of am almost there, but not quite. I was wondering last night if it's the fault of the translation. Or not. I don't know. I just really really really want to love it, and am falling short. It's not a fast read either so I may take long time to get through it. Maybe I'll fall in love with it a little ways through.
Ms. G said…
It's a shame about the Bradbury. Who wouldn't love that title? I don't know if I would dare bring it home though. My mother in law is named Constance ; )
Maggie said…
I also did not enjoy Zone One and I usually enjoy at least somewhat anything post-apocalyptic. It just did not hold my attention at all.

I accidentally hit a YA wall this summer after reading several in a row. So, although I enjoyed Divergent, I couldn't bring myself to try Insurgent. Probably won't after this. Also am kind of fed up with everything being a trilogy lately.
Kim said…
The only one of these I've read is Zone One and I couldn't get into it, either. This KILLED me because I follow Colson Whitehead on Twitter and I think he's so witty--but this book had no zip and it was like it was written by some other, duller, stuffier person. GAH. I finished it, because I kept waiting for it to get better, but once I hit the halfway point I should have given up.

(Also: I tried with one Murakami [maybe Norwegian Wood?] and quit on that one, but I really did like Never Let Me Go.)

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